Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory

Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory

Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory

Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory

Synopsis

The Allied victory at Omaha Beach was a costly one. A direct infantry assault against a defense that was years in the making, undertaken in daylight following a mere thirty-minute bombardment, the attack had neither the advantage of tactical surprise nor that of overwhelming firepower. American forces were forced to improvise under enemy fire, and although they were ultimately victorious, they suffered devastating casualties.

Why did the Allies embark on an attack with so many disadvantages? Making extensive use of primary sources, Adrian Lewis traces the development of the doctrine behind the plan for the invasion of Normandy to explain why the battles for the beaches were fought as they were.

Although blame for the Omaha Beach disaster has traditionally been placed on tactical leaders at the battle site, Lewis argues that the real responsibility lay at the higher levels of operations and strategy planning. Ignoring lessons learned in the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters, British and American military leaders employed a hybrid doctrine of amphibious warfare at Normandy, one that failed to maximize the advantages of either British or U. S. doctrine. Had Allied forces at the other landing sites faced German forces of the quality and quantity of those at Omaha Beach, Lewis says, they too would have suffered heavy casualties and faced the prospect of defeat.

Excerpt

Walking along Omaha Beach on the coast of Normandy in France, one is struck by four distinct impressions that come in rapid, logical succession. The first impression is one of awe. The magnitude of the ist Infantry Division's assault in World War II almost defies description. The terrain, the configuration of the ground, greatly increased the difficulty of the task. The length and width of the beach, the dominance of the bluff that overlooks the beach, the concave shape of the shoreline, which permitted the delivery of direct fire from three directions, the concrete remains of the German defense with its numerous fighting positions along the bluff, the cliffs that flank the coast from which artillery observers could deliver indirect fire to any location on the beach, all combine to create the perception of an impenetrable natural and man-made defense. And this initial impression is incomplete since the numerous arrays of obstacles and minefields are now gone.

One can stand on the bluff that overlooks Omaha Beach and visualize thousands of American soldiers and sailors exiting what appear to be tiny landing craft, trying to cross these open stretches of beach in daylight under enemy fire. A basic understanding of the capabilities of modern, rapid-fire weapons suggests the immensity of the task. Of the defense at Omaha Beach, American naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote: “Altogether, the Germans had provided the best imitation of hell for an invading force that American troops had encountered anywhere. Even the . . .

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